On Tuesday, the government suffered an historic defeat when it lost a vote over the medical treatment of asylum seekers after one if its own bills was amended.
As Parliament drew to a close on Thursday, the government avoided another near miss when the Senate passed a motion calling for a royal commission into treatment of the disabled. The motion was headed for the House of Representatives where it had the numbers to pass.
Fearing another ambush, Mr Morrison kept question time running until the House adjourned at 4.30pm. At 150 minutes, question time eclipsed the previous record of 126 minutes in February 2009 to become the longest since Federation. The issue will again come to a head on Monday and the government indicated it will support the motion which is not binding.
The big stick legislation, which has been slammed by the energy companies and big business as desperate and dangerous, would enable the government, as a last resort, to order an energy company to forcibly divest assets if it was engaging in anti-competitive conduct.
It also includes powers to compel energy companies to supply electricity or electricity contracts on whatever terms and conditions as to price, quantity and duration the Treasurer of the day thinks fit – for a period of up to three years.
Its abandonment caused some concern within the Nationals but Mr Morrison assured the Parliament that it remained policy and would be taken to the election.
“We remained committed to our policy,” he said.
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the legislation was necessary, claiming AGL Energy had thumbed its nose at the government when pressed to delay the closure of the Liddell power station.
“They said ‘how sad, too bad, you’ve got no power to do anything about it, stick it in your pipe and smoke it’,” he said.
Labor has always opposed the legislation, which was not recommended by the ACCC as part of its review into retail power prices, on the basis it was bad law and would increase power prices.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said he did not fear a scare campaign from the government linking Labor to “greedy” energy companies.
“Our response will be we have an energy policy not a cheap populist piece of sloganeering;’ he said.
He said the policy was an “investment chilling Venezuelan-style intervention, which had been unanimously panned by anybody with a view and which would “actually make the situation worse”.
“It will put upward pressure on prices because it will make investment less likely,” he said.
The Australian Energy Council welcomed the backdown and called for “a stable policy framework that provides certainty for investors”.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg accused Labor of kowtowing to big power.
“It was on the Labor Party’s watch when they were last in government that electricity prices doubled and now they are obstructing key reforms which save money for Australian families and businesses,” he said.
At the same time, Labor accused the government of going soft on banks for pulling another bill after Labor suggested amendment to implement a royal commission recommendation to crackdown on harmful funeral insurance products.
“This blows a hole in the government’s claims that the recommendations of the royal commission can’t be implemented,” opposition financial services spokeswoman Clare O’Neil said.